Best Music 2017. From debuts, SZA to long-awaited follow-ups, Lorde, and “OG’s” reclaiming the throne, Jay-Z; this year’s critically acclaimed music was also tremendously commercially successful. Expand your music appreciation by listening to albums outside of your traditional genre(s). Any of these spectacular selections will have you too singing praise!
It is smart and silly, wry and angry, of the moment and steeped in history. It works on so many levels it could double as an elevator, in a pinch. It is also much, much more than the satire of white liberalism it is ecstatically hailed as being.
Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.
Jason Clarke and Garrett Hedlund play brothers Henry and Jamie; Carey Mulligan plays Laura, an unworldly woman who marries Henry, charmed by his shyness but also secretly entranced by Jamie’s romantic charm.
Their tenants on this property are a black family, led by a lay preacher, Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his smart son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). Ronsel and Jamie go off to war after Pearl Harbor and when they return, traumatized and lonely, they have a bond of friendship and respect that transcends race. These men begin a clandestine friendship, platonic yet almost like an extramarital affair, which involves Ronsel ducking down in the passenger seat of Jamie’s pickup when some of the glowering locals might see. It leads to a moment of horror, yet also to a strange kind of release. Mudbound is absorbing: the language, performance and direction all have real sinew.
Arguably the finest male performance of the year comes courtesy of Robert Pattinson in Good Time, the latest grungy New York City street drama from rising superstar directors Ben and Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What). In this breakneck nocturnal thriller, Pattinson is Connie, a low-level hood who finds himself on a desperate search for bailout cash after a bank robbery goes awry and his accomplice—his mentally challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie)—is arrested and given a one-way ticket to Rikers Island. With a scruffy goatee, disheveled hair that he eventually bleaches a garish blonde, and amoral desperation in his eyes, Pattinson proves a mesmerizing man on the run, his motivations cloudy, his behavior unethical, and his every decision more foolhardy than the last. The Safdies’ up-close-and-personal shooting style sticks closely to their protagonist as he falls deeper and deeper into a hole of his own making, ultimately generating an intensity of sound, movement and mania that makes watching the film feel akin to being on a rollercoaster with faulty brakes.
Michael Almereyda’s adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s play takes a Twilight Zone-ish concept into surprisingly profound, poignant territory. At a seaside home, Marjorie (Lois Smith) spends her final days conversing with a holographic projection that resembles her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm), all as her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) cope with her failing health and their own personal and marital issues. In Marjorie and Walter’s conversations—the latter’s personality shaped by information given to it by its human owners/programmers—as well as later chats between other people and holograms, Marjorie Prime plumbs not only complex familial dynamics but also the thorny intricacies of memory: how we prioritize, shape, erase, and warp them to fit more comforting conceptions of ourselves and our lives. It’s a superb, subtle portrait of conscious and unconscious (self-) deception, perpetrated so we might grapple with the pain, disappointment and tragedy of existence—and how we create a dialogue that gives birth to a living, breathing new future
Lee Morgan was one of the mid-century jazz scene’s brightest lights, until his life was cut tragically short when his wife Helen fatally gunned him down in a New York City nightclub on the snowy night of February 18, 1972. Using copious archival footage, newly recorded interviews with friends and collaborators, and, most illuminating of all, a tape-recorded 1996 interview with Helen made one month before her death, Kasper Collin’s transfixing documentary I Called Him Morgan recounts this sad real-life saga as two separate stories—Lee’s and Helen’s—that eventually dovetailed, intertwined, and then combusted in horrific fashion. Abandonment, drug abuse, and betrayal all factor into this sorrowful equation, as Collin assuredly conveys the messy stew of passion, need, ego, loneliness, and fury that eventually begat such a calamity. In doing so, it recognizes the jazzy spirit of Lee and Helen’s doomed romance—and the riffing-our-way-forward nature of life itself.
For his follow-up to 2012’s How to Survive a Plague, David France concentrates his attention on Marsha P. Johnson, an icon of the New York City trans community whose life was cut short—under mysterious circumstances—in 1992, when her body was found in the Hudson River. Chronicling the efforts of activist Victoria Cruz to re-investigate Johnson’s cold case, the director both celebrates Johnson’s life as a loud-and-proud trailblazer, and reveals the persecution that she and those like her faced—and continue to face, as evidenced by a modern trial that eventually factors into the film—for simply being themselves. In the figure of Johnson’s one-time partner Sylvia Rivera, who eventually found herself living on the street right near the spot where Johnson perished, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson details the difficult plight faced by so many trans individuals, as well as locates a measure of hope for a future that’s less grim.
Director Osgood Perkins is the son of Norman Bates himself (actor Anthony Perkins), but he proves to be a horror maestro in his own right with The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a beguiling descent into dark, demonic places that’s all the more chilling for refusing to chart a simple straight-and-narrow course. In upstate New York, Kat (Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka) is left by her parents to spend winter break at her boarding school alongside more popular Rose (Lucy Boynton); meanwhile, Joan (Emma Roberts) endeavors to hitchhike her way to the school, eventually nabbing a ride with a contentious couple (James Remark and Lauren Holly). What these three girls have to do with each other is a mystery to be unraveled. It’s ultimately far less important than the overarching air of loss—of parents, of virginity, of adolescence—and grief that consumes them. It eventually becomes clear that all is not right with this institute and its (Satan-admiring?) staff members. Yet what lingers is the pervasive fear of abandonment, all of it encapsulated by Roberts’ final, unforgettable primal scream